I ended up having a really good time seeing music Saturday night at Higher Ground. I lived and thrived through the Burlington music scene in the ’90’s. There was always music about, much like there is today, and some of the bands music just filled my heart. I would often go to shows where there were three of five bands on the bill and like some of it, love some of it, and not be amazed by some of it. The Pants were one of the bands who I saw a few times that I never liked. I was writing for the Permanent Records Review at the time and published something about their music making me run screaming to the bar. While a lot of bands music clicked with me, the Pants just never did.
Recently, a movie was made about the Pants and the local scene from the 1990’s in Burlington. On Saturday night they showed the movie then had a musical showcase of the music. I was sure I was not going to go, especially since it started at 7 and I had to work until 8:30. I knew the music was going to start at 9. They promised songs from the Pants, of course, but also some songs from Construction Joe and Wide Wail, and since Swale were the house band, I thought there would be a little bit of musical magic there. On Friday morning I broke down and bought a ticket and set the plan in motion.
I got out of work right on time and drove to Higher Ground. I got into the ballroom, settled, and ran into a ton of people that I knew and that looked familiar. Soon enough, the lights went down and Swale took the stage. As they lit into the first song I realized both why I did and did not want to be there. The Pants have a lot of chunky indie rock songs that have a lot of intricacy, but they usually stay in the discordant zone, so they are a bit jarring. Conversely, it was Swale playing them so the musicianship was outstanding and a complete joy to be in the presence of. That was how I felt for most of the first part of the three hour show. Swale played the first song on their own then brought Pants member Tom Lawson to the stage. They played a great version of High Water Mark, the only Pants song that I know, and that was really fun. Tom sang it well and his voice was quite nice. He stayed with them as they rocked out the third song of the night. After that, Tom left the stage and they brought out Ryan Ober to sing the next one. His voice was great and he had some nice dance moves. Up next, Casey Merlin Rae took the stage with a vocal tour de force. It’s been ages since I have heard him sing live and I really enjoyed it. The next song featured just Swale with Amanda Gustafson doing a great job on vocals. The next song featured Ryan Miller who came out covered in turned off Christmas lights. The song started slow, but when it hit the fast section he flipped on the lights and danced frantically. Jason Cooley came out for the next one and rocked it hard. James Kochalka added his quirkiness to the following song. The one that followed featured a powerful vocal performance by Craig Mitchell. Heloise Williams sang the next one and let her voice range from a deep growl to a high pitched scream. Amanda lead Swale through the next song, then things started to change. Swale left the stage and Tom returned with Chris Ziter & Jeff Baron. They played with one acoustic guitar and two singers and pulled out a Chainsaws of Babylon song. Tom then moved back to the drums but still kept the vocal mike. He was joined by a couple of people and they called themselves Factory Edge. The first song was a rocker called Backhoe. The second was a bit more mellow and was called That’s The Sound Of The Sun Going Down. Their final song was even mellower and quite pretty and was called We Never Had A Chance. After that, they left and the original members of Construction Joe took the stage. The first few notes lit me up like a ray of sun finally breaking through a cloudy day. The three songs they played, including the fun version of Funky Cigarette in the middle, were great. For me, music is never about taking me back to what I felt when I first heard it, it’s all about how it makes me feel now. Construction Joe’s set made me feel great for every moment. With a non Tyler Bolles bass player, David Cam?, Swale returned to the stage for a couple of Wide Wail songs. The first song was achingly beautiful, though I missed which one it was. The second was a hard rocking run through All My Life, a song that is one of my all time favorites from that era. My heart was full of joy for that one! Up next James Kochalka Superstar took the stage. James sang, Eric Olsen played bass, Creston Lea and Jason Cooley played electric guitar, Jeremy Frederick was on drums and the band rocked. They played Magic Finger, a little bit of Good Morning Glorkian Warrior, then something that may have been called Pony or something like that. They wrapped the set with Monkey VS Robot and the end section sounded like the classic song Gloria. Imagine M O N K E Y Rooooooooobot and you are in the right neighborhood. Swale returned to the stage and instead of playing keys, Amanda took the microphone. She told a touching story about working with Syrian refugees and the band played a song about someone who’s only desire is to be able to sleep with Both Eyes Closed. It was one of the most powerful performances I have experienced. Amanda returned to the keys and Tom came back to the stage. He sang a song about yes you can make me a freak and it was pretty fun. For the last song, 2,000, everyone took the stage for a giant singalong. The chorus about spirals had a 5 Years vibe to it and was a fitting way to close the night.
I headed out pretty quickly and contemplated the night on the short drive home. There were a lot of songs that didn’t grab me, but I enjoyed the full spectrum of the performances, and some of the songs just filled my heart. I’m so glad I put the effort in.